Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A fake Potter: history of a small album of prints

The Friesian Horse

In 1652, Paulus Potter (1625-1654) produced a series of five prints of horses in landscapes.[1] In 1974 Jan Verbeek suggested that these prints represent different seasons, namely spring, late spring, summer, autumn and winter, and that the demeanour and the condition of the animals correspond to the stages in human life.[2]

The Album

The album in our collection contains remarkable copies of the second and third states of this well-known series by Potter. It is highly likely that these etchings were made by Ignace-Joseph de Claussin (France, 1766-1844). De Claussin was an amateur engraver who travelled through England and the Netherlands. He etched an impressive number of copies – more than 200 – after the most famous Dutch masters in his collection: Rembrandt, Potter, Berchem, Du Jardin. From literature we know that he definitely copied Potter’s Vaches et taureaux.[3]

The Worn-out horse

The album is bound in blue paper, with an annotation on the front: “Vente de Rigal en 1817 (...)” and a note pasted in the doublure with a brief description of the volume in French. These prints are best seen in their original setting, in their frail but at the same time effective binding. The plates however do not follow the order proposed in 1974 by Jan Verbeek. Although he suggested that the prints should have been read as a progression, from the young and healthy horse to the worn-out and dead ones, the album is not in the order as proposed by Verbeek which is: 1) the healthy clean Friesian; 2) the Neighing horse; 3) the Cropped horse; 4) the Plough horse; and finally 5) the Worn-out horse. In the album however, the Worn-out horse is placed between the first two plates and the Cropped horse is located at the end. 

The Cropped horse

The symbolism of decay was not taken into consideration in this album. Instead, we think that the copyist arranged the prints according to the order of another album of originals by Potter that he might have seen previously. However, this remains speculation. 

The Neighing horse

The etchings are very sharp, so they might be from among the first pressed. Overall the plates are somewhat smaller than the originals, but they preserve the same direction and the copyist carefully transcribed the date and the signature of Potter on each plate. The etcher did his best to copy the originals faithfully, yet his skills did not allow him to obtain the same successful results of Potter. For example in the Neighing horse the head of the animal is very dark and flattened, especially in the neck area. Either the etcher etched too deeply in the plate and his scratches are too close to each other, or he did not know how to handle the mordant and its timing. Similarly, the landscapes in the background suffer de Claussin’s inexperience. Potter was able to create a thick atmosphere between the foreground with scant vegetation beside the horses and the villages in the distance, whereas in the plates by the French master the sense of a three-dimensional space is less perceivable, due to the sharpness of the contours of the houses in the background. 

The Plough horse

What is further interesting is that we know that the album was sold at the sale of the Count of Rigal in 1817 as a suite of copies.[4] In the sale catalogue these prints are praised for their similarity to the originals: it is noted that they preserve the same direction but are smaller in size. 

by Anna Bianco

Ref. nr. 60561

[1] Hollstein, F.W.H. Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, Ca. 1450-1700. Vol. XVII. Amsterdam: Van Gendt &, 1976. Print. Andries Pauli (Pauwels) - Johannes Rem. “Series of Horses” 9-13, pp. 216-218. 
[2] Verbeek, Jan. “Vroege staten van de etsen van Paulus Potter. 1625-1645”. Antiek vol. 10 (1974), pp. 854-861. In the same school of thought is the article by Alexandra Turnbull ‘The Horse in Landscape: Animals, Grooming, Labour and the City in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands’ included in Shift: Queen’s Journal of Visual & Material Culture, no. 3 (2010), pp. 1-24, available online (link).
[3] Treydel, Renate. "Claussin, Ignace Joseph de" Allgemeines K├╝nstlerlexikon. Berlin, Boston: K. G. Saur. 2015.
[4]Catalogue Raisonné Des Estampes Du Cabinet De M. Le Comte Rigal. Paris: Chez L'auteur, 1817. Print., lot 635, p. 288-289.